COUNCIL BLUFFS — Sioux City East soccer coach Jeremy Lenz didn’t look like someone who had just led his team within a win of the Class 3-A state tournament Thursday.
The coach looked more relieved than happy after his Black Raiders prevailed in a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson in the 3-A substate 1 semifinals at City Park.
That’s because the Black Raiders had staved off an aggressive comeback attempt by Thomas Jefferson. East took a 2-0 lead into halftime, but spent much of the last 40 minutes defending its own end.
“I warned them at halftime about not letting down and letting T.J. back into it, and that’s what they did,” Lenz said. “They all kind of shut down and thought the game was won. T.J. took it to us like we took it to them, so we had to defend for the whole second half.”
The Black Raiders used a goal from Zachary Ingram and a T.J. own goal in the final 13:08 of the first half to produce all the offense they would need.
It was enough to advance them to Saturday’s substate final, where they’ll face unbeaten No. 5 Sioux City West (18-0).
The Yellow Jackets end their season at 6-11.
East controlled the tempo for most of the first half, and the Black Raiders finally broke through when Ingram received a long pass roughly 15 yards from the Thomas Jefferson goal box in the middle of four defenders. He weaved his way free and fired a shot into the top-left corner of the goal for a 1-0 lead with 13:08 left in the half.
Eight minutes later, East’s Jake Lilly set up for a corner kick. It sailed into the middle of the Jackets’ goal box, where T.J.’s Logan Hotz attempted to clear the ball; instead, it caromed off his head and into the net for a 2-0 East lead.
Thomas Jefferson coach Matt Young met with his players at halftime and told them to focus on one fundamental.
“I told them what we were lacking in the first half was just communication,” he said. “We were doing a lot of chasing around instead of talking to each other to make the game easier.”
T.J. ran with that advice. Most of the second half saw the Jackets’ keeping the East defense on its heels on the Black Raider side of the field.
And just seven minutes into the second half, Thomas Jefferson’s Mario Torres took a pass from Eduardo Barron and found the back-right corner of the net to pull the Jackets within 2-1.
Unfortunately for T.J., that would be the only goal it would produce. The Black Raiders routinely cleared T.J. threats out of their end of the field.
The strategy paid off, and now Lenz has a chance to get his team to state. The task will be difficult; East lost three times to West by a combined score of 14-2.
“It’s going to be tough,” Lenz said. “They’re undefeated, and we already played them three times. We’re going to have to come ready to do a lot of hard defending, play as a team and hopefully get lucky a little bit.”
Although his team fell short Thursday, Young was proud of how the Jackets responded in the second half.
“I was happy with the opportunities we created and the game we played,” he said. “We didn’t come out and let down. We went out there and played 80 minutes. It’s just unfortunate we couldn’t put it in the back of the net.”
Thursday marked the final prep game for seniors Logan Hotz, Chase Hayden, Marshall Fallet, Alex Powders, Juan Ceballos, Alan Rodriguez, Torres, Benjamin Parra, Isreal Cervantes and Antonio Gonzalez.
“They worked hard and never complained, and that’s all you can ask for: that they show up, come out and give you their all,” Young said. “They led by showing guys how to work hard, and that’s one thing that distinguishes them from other groups of seniors I’ve had in the past.”
Sioux City East (8-9) .................................... 2 0—2
CB Thomas Jefferson (6-11) ......................... 0 1—1
Goals: SCE, Zachary Ingram, own goal. CBTJ, Mario Torres. Assist: TJ, Eduardo Barron.
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